FONTANA, Calif. – In a dogfight to the finish line, Ashton Crowder beat Garrett Lowe in a battle of teenagers to become a two-time eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series winner on Tuesday night.
Crowder, 17, fought tooth and nail with Lowe, 18, down the home stretch in the second race of the season. The pair exchanged the top spot four times in the final five laps of the 100-lap, 200-mile event, with Crowder’s decisive move coming on lap 98 of 100.
The Charlotte, N.C., resident took command by holding true to the outside lane when it mattered most. His momentum off the higher groove propelled him past Lowe’s Wood Brothers Gaming Ford Mustang, and then Crowder eked out a car length more at the finish.
Though Lowe held the race lead on the 96th rotation, Crowder’s determination paid off two laps later, shortly after the pair exchanged the top spot twice in one circuit on lap 97.
Tuesday night’s thriller marked Crowder’s second series victory, as well as his second in the last six races dating back to 2019.
“That was pretty cool,” Crowder said after celebrating with a frontstretch burnout. “I told Garrett over the drivers’ radio with like 10 (laps) to go not to go then, to wait until five to go … because I didn’t want us to get caught by Bobby (Zalenski). Thankfully that didn’t happen.”
Crowder was outside the top 10 when the race’s first of two cautions waved past the halfway point, and he didn’t take the lead for the first time all night until lap 79.
But once out in front, Crowder commanded the field when it counted, pacing 16 of the final 22 laps en route to his first triumph at the virtual Auto Club Speedway.
The teenager noted afterward it was a huge show of growth from his entire team which culminated in a big victory for Burton Kligerman eSports, the team co-owned by NASCAR on NBC broadcast personalities Jeff Burton and Parker Kligerman.
“Everyone that builds these race cars has stepped up, because we weren’t all that good last year,” he added. “We got a win (at Darlington Raceway), but it was mostly off of strategy. The cars overall were lacking at that point. We spent a lot of time in the winter testing our butts off and it’s showing, I feel. We got out front and we had a lot of speed all night.
“It was a tad bit loose at times, but overall, I think we held on really well considering where we restarted toward the end,” Crowder noted. “I think Garrett may have fallen back a bit more than I did, but it was a huge group effort tonight. I’m so happy to get the win here.”
Lowe came up one spot short of securing a second-career victory in his own right, but was quick to note the fun he had in battling Crowder in the closing stages of the race.
“We had a fantastic car all night; I can’t thank everyone at Wood Brothers Racing enough,” said Lowe. “We couldn’t quite get there at the end. I think I may have pushed him away more than I was able to stay close to him in the draft. I think we’ve got plenty to look forward to for the rest of the season, though; I feel like we showed plenty tonight and we’ll be able to carry this momentum forward as we get into the heavy part of the season.”
The official margin between the two teenagers at the finish line was .128 seconds.
Bobby Zalenski tried to run down Crowder and Lowe in the final 10 laps, but could not get to the front pair and settled for a third-place finish.
Zalenski and Jake Nichols, who finished fourth after parlaying a one-stop pit strategy into a charge from 33rd on the grid, both led 13 laps but weren’t in the picture for the win in the end.
Chris Overland crossed the line fifth to give Wood Brothers Racing a pair of cars inside the top five, followed by John Gorlinsky, Casey Kirwan, Jimmy Mullis, Blake Reynolds and Jarl Teien.
Four-time series champion Ray Alfalla led 13 laps in his own right during his attempt at the one-stop pit strategy, but his hopes were squelched by an ill-timed caution past halfway.
Alfalla was scored 11th, while polesitter Keegan Leahy finished 22nd after heavy contact with Santiago Tirres in turn three during the second half of the event.
The night’s second caution flag at lap 58, when Michael Guariglia slapped the outside wall off turn four and came down into Logan Clampitt, collected seven cars in all – including two-time Fontana eNASCAR winner Ryan Luza, who ended up 36th, two laps down.
Defending champion Zack Novak was also eliminated in the melee, credited with 40th.
The eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series season continues March 17 at the virtual Homestead-Miami (Fla.) Speedway, where Novak won last fall to secure the title.
Ashton Crowder, Garrett Lowe, Bobby Zalenski, Jake Nichols, Chris Overland, John Gorlinsky, Casey Kirwan, Jimmy Mullis, Blake Reynolds, Jarl Teien, Ray Alfalla, Matt Bussa, Brad Davies, Phillip Diaz, Jeremy Allen, Caine Cook, Alex McCollum, Bob Bryant, Santiago Tirres, Nick Ottinger, Brandon Kettelle, Keegan Leahy, Nathan Lyon, Justin Bolton, Corey Vincent, Graham Bowlin, Kollin Keister, Steve Sheehan, Eric J. Smith, Michael Conti, Dylan Duval, Chris Shearburn, Michael Guest, Malik Ray, Christian Challiner, Ryan Luza, Brian Schoenburg, Logan Clampitt, Michael Guariglia, Zack Novak.
Lead Changes: 30 among 13 drivers
Lap Leaders: Keegan Leahy 1-2, Ryan Luza 3-10, Bobby Zalenski 11, Logan Clampitt 12-14, Chris Shearburn 15, Logan Clampitt 16-18, Chris Shearburn 19, Logan Clampitt 20-22, Chris Shearburn 23-24, Logan Clampitt 25-26, Casey Kirwan 27, Logan Clampitt 28, Keegan Leahy 29-34, Nick Ottinger 35, Ray Alfalla 36-48, Jake Nichols 49, Nathan Lyon 50, Keegan Leahy 51-55, John Gorlinsky 56-57, Jake Nichols 58-66, Bobby Zalenski 67-69, Jake Nichols 70-71, Bobby Zalenski 72, Jake Nichols 73, Bobby Zalenski 74-78, Ashton Crowder 79-81, Casey Kirwan 82, Bobby Zalenski 83-85, Ashton Crowder 86-95, Garrett Lowe 96-97, Ashton Crowder 98-100.
Laps Led: Ashton Crowder 16, Keegan Leahy 13, Bobby Zalenski 13, Ray Alfalla 13, Jake Nichols 13, Logan Clampitt 12, Ryan Luza 8, Chris Shearburn 4, Casey Kirwan 2, John Gorlinsky 2, Garrett Lowe 2, Nick Ottinger 1, Nathan Lyon 1.
Caution Flags: Twice for six laps
Margin of Victory: .128 seconds
Average Speed: 44.556 seconds (161.594 mph)